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Bookends: Two books about the North for your winter reading February 19, 2015

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Bookends: Two books about the North for your winter reading

By Dan Davidson

December 3, 2014

– 764 words –

 

One of the perks of writing this column since 1977 is that I’ve had the chance to sample a lot of books I might not necessarily have picked up on my own. In addition, it’s offered me the opportunity to meet, at least by way of interviews, quite a few interesting people who have contributed to my knowledge and understanding of the territory.

In the case of the following two books I interviewed the writers and prepared profiles of them for the Star this past fall.

 

A Rock Fell on the Moon:

Dad and the Great Yukon Silver Ore HeistA Rock Fell

By Alicia Priest

Lost Moose

251 pages

$32.95

 

Alicia Priest spent her early years living in Elsa, leaving there as a result of her father’s part in the silver theft referenced in the subtitle. His crimes caught up with the family after they moved to Vancouver and had a tremendous impact on their lives after that.

This delightful book works on a number of levels. It is a memoir about growing up in rural Yukon. For all the pain and stigma that Gerry Priest inflicted on his family, the parts of the book about life in Elsa are full of joy and happiness and bring to life the late 1950s and early 1960s in a very real way.

Driving through the gated ghost town a few years ago didn’t give me nearly the sense of the place that I got from this book.

It is also a mystery story, as Priest, the journalist, tries to piece together the somewhat fragmentary evidence and figure out just how her father and his partner in crime pulled it off. They were caught almost by accident and, as she says, the methods that were used to catch them, as well as the way in which the evidence vanished, would probably have made it impossible to convict them if the same thing were to have happened a few years later.

Priest was pushed to finish this book, on which she had already been working for a year, when she was diagnosed with ALS, By the time of the book launch in Whitehorse last fall she was no longer able to speak and her husband, Ben, had to handle all the public chores.

 

Polar Winds: A Century of Flying the NorthPolar Winds

By Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail

Dundurn

224 pages

$28.99

 

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail doesn’t fly herself, but she’s a self-described airplane nut. So much so that her first book, a history of Laurentian Air Services, had For the Love of Flying as its main title. She is active in the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, and has served as its president.

I met Metcalfe-Chenail during her stint as writer-in-residence at Berton House, where she had come with the express purpose of researching this book. Many writers come to Dawson with a specific project in mind. Some of them get completed; some get pushed to the side as the Klondike takes hold of the writers and inspires new ideas.

This didn’t happen to Metcalfe-Chenail. Along with the residency she had scored an unrelated Canada Council grant, and the combination of the two gave her the luxury to use Dawson as a home base from which to travel all over the Yukon in search of materials for what she believes is the first detailed history of flying in the Canadian North.

There are lots of books about flying in the North, but most seem to focus on bush pilots or the life of a particular individual. Metcalfe-Chenail went well beyond that, fleshing out the military and police experiences, telling a few of he harrowing stories of the North and also giving a glimpse at what could be the very routine life of a pilot.

There are business stories, personal stories and a birds’ eye overview of the industry. As much as the book is about flying, it is also about the impact that the fliers had on the places they visited and how they knit the North together.

She set out to produce a Northern book. “Everything I was reading that had been written was from a southern point of view and I really wanted to get at what northerners were feeling about what was happening in the air and on the ground.

Polar Winds is not exclusively about Yukon aviation, but since so much of the early recorded history begins with the Gold Rush, there’s quite a bit of Dawson and Whitehorse in its pages.

It’s a very readable history.

 

-30-

 

 

 

 

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